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Oldham, John 1600-

Pilgrim; born in England about 1600. In 1623 the Pilgrims, regarding Robinson, in Holland, as their pastor, and expecting him over, had no other spiritual guide than Elder Brewster. Because of this state of things at Plymouth, the London partners were taunted with fostering religious schism. To relieve themselves of this stigma, they sent a minister named Lyford to be pastor. He was kindly received, and, with John Oldham, who went to Plymouth at about the same time, was invited to the consultations of the governor with his council. It was soon discovered that Lyford and Oldham were plotting treason against the Church and State. Several letters written by Lyford to the London partners, breathing sedition, were discovered by Bradford as they were about to be sent abroad. The governor kept quiet for a while, but when Lyford set up a separate congregation, with a few of the colonists whom he had seduced, and held meetings on the Sabbath, Bradford summoned a General Court (1624), before whom the offending clergyman and his companions were arraigned on a charge of seditious correspondence. They denied the accusation, when they were confronted by Lyford's letters, in which he defamed the settlers, advised the London partners to prevent Robinson and the rest of his congregation coming to America, as they would interfere with his church schemes, and avowed his intention of removing the stigma of schism by a regularly organized church.

A third conspirator had written that Lyford and Oldham “intended a reformation in church and commonwealth.” Before these disclosures Oldham had behaved with much insolence, abusing the governor and Captain Standish, calling them “rebels and traitors,” and, when proved guilty, he attempted to excite a mutiny on the spot. Lyford burst into tears and confessed that he “feared he was a reprobate.” Both were ordered to leave the colony, but Lyford, humbly begging to stay, asking forgiveness and promising good behavior, was reinstated. Oldham went to Nantasket, with some of his adherents, and engaged in traffic with the Indians. Lyford was soon detected again in seditious work and expelled from the colony. He joined Oldham. They afterwards lived at Hull and Cape Anne, and Oldham represented Watertown in the popular branch of the Massachusetts government in 1634. He made an exploring journey to the site of Windsor, on the Connecticut River, the next year, which was followed by the emigration to that region in 1635. While in a vessel at Block Island, in July, 1636, Oldham was murdered by some Indians, who fled to the Pequods, on the mainland, and were protected by them. This led to the war with the Pequod Indians (q. v.).

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